28 September 2014

Review: CURTAIN: POIROT'S LAST CASE, Agatha Christie

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 926 KB
  • Print Length: 228 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0425173747
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; TV tie-in ed edition (October 14, 2010)
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046A9MUY
Synopsis (Amazon)

A wheelchair-bound Poirot returns to Styles, the venue of his first investigation (THE MYSTERIOUS AFFAIR AT STYLES published in 1920 , where he knows another murder is going to take place…

The house guests at Styles seemed perfectly pleasant to Captain Hastings; there was his own daughter Judith, an inoffensive ornithologist called Norton, dashing Mr Allerton, brittle Miss Cole, Doctor Franklin and his fragile wife Barbara , Nurse Craven, Colonel Luttrell and his charming wife, Daisy, and the charismatic Boyd-Carrington.

So Hastings was shocked to learn from Hercule Poirot’s declaration that one of them was a five-times murderer. True, the ageing detective was crippled with arthritis, but had his deductive instincts finally deserted him?…

My Take

Published in 1975, and supposedly written about 35 years earlier, which puts it at the beginning of World War II, apparently during the blitz.

Hastings, as narrator, makes his first appearance since DUMB WITNESS. In fact he has married, brought up four children, and then buried his wife. The timeline of Hastings' life doesn't quite fit real time so it is one of those things we don't look at too closely. His daughter Judith is one of the characters in the story, and seems to be in her early twenties.

Poirot, crippled with arthritis, a shadow of his former self, and confined to a wheel chair, brings Hastings to Styles to assist in the apprehension of X who has already been involved in five murders. He hopes they will be able to prevent another murder. 

Poirot constantly tells Hastings that his mind, his little grey cells, is not impaired, just his body, and he needs Hastings to be the mobile one. However he refuses to tell Hastings who he has identified as X, and this puts him at quite a disadvantage. Poirot finds Hastings as frustrating to work with as he always has, and they do not manage to prevent more murders occurring. It is not for four months after the last murder that Hastings finds out the truth.

Even without the title the reader knows this is the final curtain for Poirot.

I don't actually think that I have read CURTAIN before and so the ending comes as a real surprise. I am not sure it fits with the Poirot I know from books that were written after this one. In many ways CURTAIN is a very black pessimistic book, fitting with the mood of the world when it was written.

The novel is relatively short, similar to earlier novels.

At the end of the Kindle version there is an interesting essay by Sir Charles Osborne in which he discusses the decision taken to finally publish the novel, and the impact that it had on the Christie reading public.

My rating: 4.6

I have been reading this as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, and this is the penultimate title.

Review: THE CRITIC, Peter May - audio book

  • series: The Enzo Files, Book #2
  • available from Audible.com
  • Narrated by: James Adams
  • Length: 10 hrs and 18 mins 
  • Unabridged Audiobook
  • originally published 2007 
  • source: I bought it
 Synopsis (Audible.com)

Gil Petty, the world's number-one wine critic, is found dead and strung on a cross in the vineyards of France.

Enzo Macleod, Scots exile and former forensics expert, finds that the genteel world of winemakers hides a business driven by greed, envy, and desperation, with no shortage of possible killers.

My Take

I think it probably helped to have read the first in the series, EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE, which gave biographical background to Enzo McLeod, how a Scotsman comes to be in France, lecturing at a university in biology when he is in fact a forensics expert (although essential details emerge in the narrative).

The first in the series also gives the background to Enzo's quest to solve some unusual cold cases.

I haven't read many crime fiction titles set in the wine industry and thought that would be interesting too.

Before long Enzo finds out that there are a number of people who are not keen on him solving this particular cold case and attempts are made on his life.

For those who know little about the wine industry, the author has done plenty of research and I think you will learn quite a lot.

A good read.

My rating: 4.5

I've already reviewed
4.5, EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE (#1 in the Enzo McLeod series)

27 September 2014

Review: POSTERN OF FATE, Agatha Christie

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 595 KB
  • Print Length: 256 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; 1st edition (October 14, 2010)
  • first published 1973
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B0046H95MW
  • Tommy & Tuppence #5
Synopsis (Amazon)

A poisoning many years ago may not have been accidental after all…

Tommy and Tuppence Beresford have just become the proud owners of an old house in an English village. Along with the property, they have inherited some worthless bric-a-brac, including a collection of antique books. While rustling through a copy of The Black Arrow, Tuppence comes upon a series of apparently random underlinings.

However, when she writes down the letters, they spell out a very disturbing message:
M a r y – J o r d a n – d i d – n o t – d i e – n a t u r a l l y…

And sixty years after their first murder, Mary Jordan's enemies are still ready to kill…

My Take

This is the last novel that Agatha Christie ever wrote. In previous titles, NEMESIS and ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER she had brought the careers of her other sleuths to a close, although the final novels published relating to Hercule Poirot (CURTAIN) and Miss Marple (SLEEPING MURDER) were both written in about 1940).

Tommy and Tuppence appear together in four full-length novels and one collection of short stories. The collection of short stories is Partners in Crime, (1929), the four novels are THE SECRET ADVERSARY (1922), N or M? (1941), BY THE PRICKING OF MY THUMBS (1968); and POSTERN OF FATE (1973).

Unlike Hercule Poirot and Jane Marple the Beresfords actually age in real time, beginning in their early 20s in 1922 and in POSTERN OF FATE they are in their 70s.

Rather appropriately the mystery in this story begins with a code which Tuppence breaks with ease. While Tommy was the one who worked in Intelligence and then as a private detective, and Tuppence was the one who raised the children and kept the home fires burning, it always seemed to be it was Tuppence whom Christie favored.

This novel is also about memory. The house that the Beresfords have bought has changed hands many times since Mary Jordan died and, as in ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER, most of the knowledge about the "Frowline" is mixture of hearsay and innuendo. But the discovery of a gravestone in the local churchyard sets both Beresfords off on a hunt for the truth. Tuppence explores what elderly villagers remember while Tommy goes through more official channels. This is rather evocative of the strategy adopted by Hercule Poirot and Ariadne Oliver in ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER. I think it is also Christie exploring how her own memory works.
It turns out that the house that the Beresfords have bought has been "of interest" to British intelligence for decades as a possible hiding place for documents that the government would rather not see made publicly available.

In ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER there were references to cases that Poirot had solved, and there are similar passing references here to the previous novels in which the Beresfords featured.

Those who are looking in this novel for signs that Agatha Christie was "past it" or had Alzheimer's won't find it here. The novel is carefully plotted by a writer who still has something to say. However I think some of the episodes of dialogue between the Beresfords is a bit limp, nothing that I could imagine a husband and wife, even after about fifty years of married life, saying to each other. 
In addition some of the plot strands get confusing with informants not clearly explaining the information they are passing on.

I think the novel is also a little outdated in its writing style although it may not have been at time of publication. It reflects a belief Christie held for all her life: that there are some persistent forces of evil that regenerate from one generation to the next. Sometimes they are not at first seen for the malignancies that they are.

My rating:  3.8

I've read this as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge, and now I have just two titles to go.
  • 1975, CURTAIN (Poirot's last case, written about 35 years earlier)
  • 1976, SLEEPING MURDER (Miss Marple's last case, written about 35 years earlier)

26 September 2014

Review: ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER, Agatha Christie

  • Format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 723 KB
  • Print Length: 243 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0062074032
  • Publisher: HarperCollins; Masterpiece ed edition (October 14, 2010)
    originally published in 1972
  • Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 000712080X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0007120802
  • ASIN: B0046A9MWC
Synopsis (Amazon)

Hercule Poirot is determined to solve an old husband and wife double murder that is still an open verdict…

Hercule Poirot stood on the cliff-top. Here, many years earlier, there had been a tragic accident. This was followed by the grisly discovery of two more bodies – a husband and wife – shot dead.

But who had killed whom? Was it a suicide pact? A crime of passion? Or cold-blooded murder? Poirot delves back into the past and discovers that ‘old sin leave long shadows’.

My Take

The story begins with Hercule Poirot's writer-friend, Ariadne Oliver, attending a literary luncheon.  A woman approaches Mrs Oliver to ask her about the parents of Ariadne's god-daughter Celia Ravenscroft. She wants to know which of Celia's parents killed the other.

Ariadne Oliver takes the problem to her old friend Hercule Poirot who ferrets out the answer.
He thinks it is a problem worth solving and so they both begin their own line of enquiry. Mrs Oliver tracks down old friends who might remember the incident at the time, and Poirot consults some professionals, in particular ex-Superintendent Spence and Mr Goby.

The novel explores the nature of collective memory, particularly when some people are under the impression they've learnt facts, but in actual fact what they "know" is hearsay, second hand information. And little by little Poirot uncovers what actually happened.

I don't really think I have read this novel before, but I actually managed to solve the puzzle a little ahead of Poirot. It is a mystery tinged with romance, a teasing out of the nature of love. I think Christie was desperate to get some ideas across, like whether a woman was likely to kill her husband and then kill herself.

In terms of her writing life, this is the second last novel that Christie ever wrote. I was particularly interested to find out whether she still had her writing powers. Agatha Christie (1890 - 1976) was after all 82 years old when this was published. It is the last Poirot she wrote (although not the last published).

For the most part the novel is well plotted and the characters are interestingly drawn. But the ending is a bit flat, almost like an amateur theatrical performance where the actors wave their goodbyes. 

My rating:  4.3

I've read this as part of the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge. I now have 3 novels to go.
  • 1973, POSTERN OF FATE (Last novel Christie ever wrote) - Tommy and Tuppence
  • 1975, CURTAIN (Poirot's last case, written about 35 years earlier)
  • 1976, SLEEPING MURDER (Miss Marple's last case, written about 35 years earlier)

Travelling again - postings will be intermittent

No deserts this time.

Today we go across to Melbourne where we had hoped the footy team would be in the grand final. However that is not to be and so we will have a couple of days to relax in Melbourne, which will be in the grip of "footy fever".

Then on Sunday we fly out for LA and then Indianapolis for the arrival of grandson #3.
This will be our last trip to Indy as at the end of October the family are moving to Florida.

So if postings on this blog are intermittent this month you wil understand why.

25 September 2014

Sustaining a challenge for six years

A post by Margaret over at BooksPlease is a timely reminder that we have been about the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge for 6 years now, having begun it in September 2008.

Margaret has 12 titles to go, while I have just 4. I've begun ELEPHANTS CAN REMEMBER and should finish it in the next day or so.

Others who began the challenge with us have fallen by the wayside but there are still plenty more who have joined and are reading along at their own pace.

Every month we put up a Blog Carnival so that people can post their reviews and give us an update.

I've listed the 62 titles read so far under Agatha Christie Novels. I've been reading and recording short stories too but it is getting harder to locate what I haven't read. I am using the list at Wikipedia of novels and collections of short stories.

My original intent was a better appreciation of Agatha Christie as a writer, and I certainly think I have gained that.  I have learnt to see her not just as a mystery writer, but as a keen observer of people, and a social commentator, particularly of the changing nature of British society as it was affected by the two world wars, and the speed of change after 1945.

23 September 2014

Review: CAN YOU KEEP A SECRET?, Caroline Overington

  • format: Kindle (Amazon)
  • File Size: 463 KB
  • Print Length: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Random House Australia (August 27, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B00JP1AOZ6
  • Source: NetGalley
Synopsis (NetGalley)

How well do you really know the one you love?

With her customary page-turning style and potent themes, this is Caroline Overington at her thought-provoking best.

'Why do some people decide to get married when everyone around them would seem to agree that marriage, at least for the two people in question, is a terrifically bad idea?'
The year is 1999, and Lachlan Colbert - Colby - has the world at his feet. He's got a big job on Wall Street and a sleek bachelor pad in the heart of Manhattan. With money no object, he and his friends take a trip to Australia to see in the new millennium.

And it's there, on a hired yacht sailing the Whitsundays, that he meets Caitlin. Caitlin Hourigan has got wild hair and torn shorts - and has barely ever left the small patch of Queensland where she grew up. But Colby is smitten and for Caitlin, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, a blissful future awaits - marriage, a big house, a beautiful little boy. But nothing is ever as perfect as it seems. And for Lachlan and Caitlin the nightmare is only just beginning.

My Take

I thought this started off a little slowly and tentatively, but it gathers pace to become a story of surprising twists and depths.

It is one of those novels that is hard to review because I don't want to reveal too much of the story simply because the synopsis doesn't, and I don't want to spoil it for you.

On one level it is the story of Caitlin's life after she sees the building next to Colby's apartment block in Manhattan, the World Trade Centre, crumble when a plane flies into it on 9/11. Like many others, Caitlin finds herself unable to board a plane, and so she doesn't return to Australia, and marries Colby instead. But that is only the beginning of the impact on Caitlin's psyche.

So I'm sorry, you are going to have to read it for yourself, to learn the story.

I'm fascinated by the way Caroline Overington takes one simple idea or event and merges it so seamlessly with other ideas.

My rating: 4.5

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